March 27 – Fourth Wednesday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8
Grace and peace to you as you let Jesus take all the leaven out of your life, from God, our Father, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As a pastor one of the fun things I do, is to ask my confirmation students, who are getting ready for their first communion, what they think a communion wafer tastes like. Over the years I’ve gotten many different responses from, “I don’t know” to “My parents say that it tastes like cardboard.” As I give the students, who are getting ready for their first communion, their first taste of a communion wafer I watch their face to see what they think about the taste of a communion wafer. I think some of them are expecting Wonder bread or some other kind of bread that you would use to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of. But this little piece of unleavened bread, is a piece of Matza, it doesn’t look or taste at all like normal bread that we eat. If anything, it looks and tastes more like a saltine cracker without the salt or as some would say a piece of cardboard, but I haven’t ever eaten any cardboard that I can remember, to be sure of that taste!
The reason, of course, why it is so unlike the bread we usually eat is that it is unleavened bread, that is, bread make without yeast. Yeast makes bread puffy, while unleavened bread is usually flat and thin. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover meal, when only unleavened bread was eaten. That’s why to this day we also use unleavened bread at the Lord’s Supper. Go ahead, eat a piece of your unleavened bread, so that you know not only what it looks like, but also what it tastes like.
Why is only unleavened bread eaten at Passover? Why do Orthodox Jews sweep their houses clean and rinse their cooking utensils and wash their cupboards before the Passover meal? It’s all to get rid of every speck of yeast, every crumb of leavened bread in their house. Why does the Passover meal usher in a seven-day festival called the feast of Unleavened Bread?
Well, there are two reasons why only unleavened bread is eaten at Passover. The first is a practical one. God ordered the Israelites to bake unleavened bread for the original Passover celebration because there wasn’t enough time for the dough in leavened bread to rise before they would have to leave. Within a few hours the Israelites would be on their way out of Egypt. They were to prepare their freedom meal in haste; hence, they ate unleavened bread. But the second reason, a spiritual reason, is even more powerful. Throughout the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, yeast or leaven symbolizes corruption, destruction, and the evil of the world.
Here are the four ways that yeast symbolizes sin and corruption:
First, yeast or leaven causes decay. The Hebrew word for “leaven,” chametz, literally means “sour.” Leavened bread is sour bread. It contains the fungus that starts the process of decomposition of the flour that bread is made of. The Leaven in our lives, or sin, causes the same thing to happen in us that is happening in the dough, the start of death in our bodies. Sin causes us to decay spiritually. It actually sours our lives, which affects our lives both physically and spiritually.
Second, a little bit of yeast goes a long way. A tiny bit of yeast can quickly invade a whole lump of bread dough. The Apostle Paul says. “Don’t you know that at little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor.5:6) Likewise, a little bit of sin can infect and affect our whole being, the way we think, what we say and do. Every aspect of our life can suffer because of one sin. A little bit goes a long way!
The third way yeast symbolizes sin is the way yeast causes bread dough to puff up and expand or rise. Likewise, sin often puffs us up in pride, arrogance, conceit, and independence from God. When we are puffed up on ourselves we forget who is truly the one enabling us to accomplish all that we have done in this world as we celebrate ourselves from God.
Finally, the fourth reason is that yeast’s leavening influence is passed on from one loaf of bread to another. Have you ever baked sourdough bread? If you have, chances are that you broke off a piece of the dough with yeast in it before you put the loaf in the oven, so that you could make another loaf at some other time. You place that piece of the leavened dough in a cool, damp place so that the yeast will stay alive and grow. Then the next time you bake some bread, once again, you take off a piece to store for the next batch of bread you want to make. In this way, the leaven gets passed on to each new generation of bread dough. Do you see the similarity between yeast and sin? The sinful condition of our lives gets passed on from generation to generation as original sin is transmitted from parents to children. The first sin has been passed down to us from our parents.
Yeast represents the corruption of evil. Therefore, to symbolize that God’s people would be leaving the corrupting influences of Egypt, God ordained that they should eat only bread without yeast before they departed. Sacrificing the lamb and painting the blood of the lamb on their door frames secured their freedom. Washing their hand reminded them of their need to be washed of all their sins before they could enter the promised land. The bitter herb they ate with the meal reminded them of the bitterness of life as a slave and the bitterness of life because of our sinfulness and our slavery to sin. Eating unleavened bread explained what kind of freedom it was going to be. The people of Israel were to leave the old leaven in Egypt and they were to begin a new life, a live with all the old yeast swept from their lives.
In the new testament, the Apostle Paul applies the symbolism of the unleavened bread to us Christians. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? He asks question and drawing this conclusion: 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The sacrifice of Christ, our Passover Lamb, has set us free from the penalty and the power of sin. At His birth Jesus did not inherit the leaven of sin from previous generations! He was not infected by the yeast of sin. That’s why Pontius Pilate could not find anything in Jesus that deserved the death penalty. King Herod agreed with Pilate’s assessment. We the church confesses that our Savior, Jesus Christ, is pure, sinless, without any guilt – in a word, unleavened. Yet God placed upon Him all His wrath for all our sins, a penalty he does not want to place on any of us who are “Leavened.” Jesus take all our sins and makes the full and final payment for them all.
(Holding up Bulletin cover picture.) Take a look at what a piece of unleavened bread traditionally looks like in the Passover Seder meal by the pictured on your bulletin cover? Notice it unique markings. For one thing, the baking process has left it streaked and striped. In addition, it is pierced through with many holes. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be pierced and striped like unleavened bread. God through Isaiah says to us, “But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” (Is. 53:5) Nails, thorns and a spear pierced Jesus’ sinless body. The Roman’s scourge lashed Jesus’ back so mercilessly that it literally was striped. All of this Jesus suffered for all of us, because of the leaven of our sins. “All we like sheep that have gone astray;” God explains through Isaiah’s words, “We have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Is. 53:6) As we just sang in Lenten Hymns, “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken,” in verse 3 it says, “Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish? It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish; Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit, This I do merit.” (LSB #439 vs. 3)
But all that is the past. The sacrifice has been offered once for all time, and God has accepted it. The Apostle Paul reminds us of that and encourages us to, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival.” (1 Cor. 5:7-8) The days have arrived, festival days to eat unleavened bread, to feast on Jesus, the bread of righteousness, the unleavened bread of life. Let the unleavened bread of Holy Communion, the body of Christ, the sinless one, who give us freedom and life be a part of our everyday life. In receiving Him, our sins are covered, indeed carried away, and we too are made sinless in God’s eyes. Someone once said, “You are what you eat.” That is nowhere truer than in the Lord’s Supper. For as we receive the bread of Christ’s holy body with faith, the leaven of our sins is removed and a new life is strengthened.
But it doesn’t stop there, Now God calls you to live what you are – to live in holiness, purity and obedience to His Word, because you are a child of God. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. . . . . 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5:7 – 8)
As we prepare ourselves for the new life given to us on that special Passover some 2000 years ago this Lenten season, let us sweep away all the old leaven and begin a new life in the love and forgiveness of God. For He has removed all our sins as the true Passover Lamb, so that we can live with Him forever. Amen.
Let Us Pray: O almighty God, You have given us the bread of life. This unleavened bread purchased and won for us by Your only Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to always be strengthened by it so that we can live in and grow in the new life given to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen